Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’ is a project that involves both digitization and academic commentary on the Straits Chinese Magazine, a literary magazine published in colonial Singapore from 1897-1907 by a combination of Southeast Asian-born Anglophone Chinese subjects, European colonial writers and mixed-race Eurasian writers.
Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’ documents how British colonial culture created a group of “Asian Victorians” in Southeast Asia through the establishment of a colonial intermediary class within the diasporic Chinese group known as the “Straits Chinese.” While the Straits Chinese had established roots in Southeast Asia from the seventeenth century, under British rule they became an important comprador class serving as mediators between the British and the rest of the Empire. Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’ is an attempt to give voice and representation to formerly colonized subjects, and to attempt to work against the “imperial meaning-making” of the archive by implementing new types of reading and commenting technologies that disrupt the idea of dominant and subjugated knowledges.
To enter the archive, click our table of contents.
For more information on our mission statement, please visit our page ‘Decolonizing the Archive.’
While the “Straits Chinese” trace their history in Singapore and Malaysia back to the fifteenth century, they played a critical role in affirming colonial authority under the British, who from 1874 established a system of “indirect rule” over Malaya. This system involved the establishment of a privileged class of non-Europeans who would serve as intermediaries between the British and the general masses. The British found this privileged class both in the “Straits Chinese”, and in local Malay nobility. The “Straits Chinese” were ideally suited to function as a “comprador class” because they had developed a separate culture and identity from the local Malay inhabitants, and new immigrants to the region from China and India. As a class they enjoyed access to English education, positions within the new British civil service, and substantial business connections that were enough to create a solid mercantile class. Under British colonialism, the Straits Chinese experienced the tensions of being torn between two Empires: the Qing Empire, which was under siege with the multiple Opium Wars, and the British Empire, under which they were considered British subjects.
Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’ focuses on the digitization and commentary from the “Straits Chinese” during this period, when they were colonized by the British and compelled to negotiate between two foreign competing empires.
For more information on the project or to contribute, please contact the project director Adeline Koh, Ph.D. at adelinekoh [at] gmail.com. Readers may also be interested in visiting our sister website, The Stockton Postcolonial Studies Project, an online magazine on postcolonial studies.